The Corner

Politics & Policy

A Few Thoughts on Rob Porter

If you were expecting a forceful condemnation, or forceful statement of any kind, from the president about Rob Porter, you’re out of luck. From USA Today:

“We found out about it recently and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well and it’s a tough time for him,” Trump said. “He did a very good job when he was in the White House.”

And:

“He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent and I think you have to remember that,” Trump said in an told reporters in the Oval Office in an unscheduled photo-op. “He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent so you have to talk to him about that, but we absolutely wish him well, he did a very good job when he was at the White House.”

A few thoughts.

As a legal and journalistic matter, I understand the need to note that Porter denies these charges. But the legal principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is not an absolute moral or prudential imperative in real life. Roy Moore was never going to be tried for child molestation, but that didn’t mean the rest of us were obliged to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Already on Twitter, I keep hearing people say that this is “fake news” because it’s merely an allegation and Porter denies it. But if you actually believe he’s innocent or if you take this murky principle of withholding judgment seriously, you should be outraged that Porter was forced out of his job or that the White House caved to a “witch hunt.”

Moreover, whether you think Porter innocent or not, that doesn’t change the fact that the guy handling the information flow to the president didn’t have adequate security clearance and that the FBI considered him vulnerable to blackmail.

Then there’s the question of actual innocence. If you think he’s entirely innocent, you have to believe that two separate women colluded to lie about him — or that they independently decided to do so with remarkably similar lies. You also have to believe at least one of them defrauded the court to get a restraining order on him and that both lied to the FBI, which is a crime. Such things do happen in divorce cases, but there’s zero evidence that’s happened here — twice. Plus, there’s a third woman, an ex-girlfriend, who has made similar charges.

Finally, there’s the president’s comments. President Trump has relied on far flimsier and even non-existent evidence to condemn people, from college students accused of shoplifting in China to Ted Cruz’s father to, well, a long list of people. But when presented with fairly clear evidence about a guy on his team, he opts to “wish him well” and essentially credit his denials.

Loyalty is a deeply misunderstood virtue. Loyalty to bad causes or bad people is not always or necessarily honorable. This seems like one of those times, even if loyalty is what really explains Trump’s response.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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